Best iOS VPN apps for iPhone and iPad and some to avoid

Published by on May 25, 2017 in VPN & Privacy

iPhone 7 Plus

A quick search for “VPN” in the app store will reveal hundreds of apps claiming to provide VPN services for iOS users, both free and paid for. Some claim to be “the most secure” when they don’t encrypt any traffic at all. Others claim to provide the fastest VPN connections, but actually end up turning your device into a node in a massive global botnet.

Lucky for you, we’ve already done the legwork and selected the best VPNs for iOS, whether it’s on an iPhone, iPad or even an iPod Touch. To make sure you get the best service available, we narrowed the choices down using the following criteria:

  • Easy to install iOS client available in the app store
  • Support for multiple versions of iOS
  • OpenVPN, IKEv2, or L2TP protocol

ExpressVPN

expressvpn ios
ExpressVPN’s app will run on iOS 7 and newer, and is protected by their “no-fuss 30-day money-back guarantee” so you can try it risk free. It can be installed on iPhones, iPads and even the iPod Touch. They have servers in over 78 countries and do not limit your bandwidth or the number of times you can switch servers.  One of the best features is their zero logging policy stating that they don’t keep records of your traffic while connected to their servers. They also receive some bonus points for accepting many different payment methods: all the major credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin and others.

ExpressVPN is fast, great at protecting privacy and works to unblock geo-restricted apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, BBC iPlayer and just about every other geo-blocked service we have tested. It will also work in countries like Turkey and China where many other VPN service have been blocked.

Read our full review of ExpressVPN.

Deal alert: Comparitech readers get 3 months extra free with ExpressVPN’s best value 12 month plan.

NordVPN

NordVPN requires iOS 9 or newer, but offers some great features for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. The app is easy to install and use, and has an extensive, global network of VPN servers to choose from. As an added bonus, NordVPN allows P2P traffic through their VPNs without limiting bandwidth, so it’s popular for torrenting. They also accept alternative methods of payment like bitcoins for their rather affordable service.

If you want a value for money option that has lots of servers, good privacy protection features, reasonable speeds and works well at unblocking geo-restricted content like Netflix then Nord is a good choice.

Read our full review of NordVPN or take advantage of their extend new year deal which gives a 72% discount on the two year plan.

IPVanish

ipvanish ios
IPVanish may cost a bit more than some other VPN providers, but they offer features to make it worth a bit extra. Features like unlimited P2P traffic, anonymous torrenting, a SOCKS5 web proxy, and unlimited server switching are just the beginning. IPVanish lets you connect up to five devices simultaneously with unlimited bandwidth. They also offer a money back guarantee, but only for seven days as opposed to 30.

Read our full review of IPVanish or try one of the discounted plans here.

VyprVPN
vyprvpn ios

VyprVPN is one of the few providers to own and operate all of its own servers and data centers. That means you get blazing fast speeds across all 70+ server locations. The app is compatible with iPad as well. For now iOS users can connect with OpenVPN, but IKEv2 is in the works and “nearing completion.” All connections are 256-bit encrypted, and there’s no data cap or bandwidth limit.  VyprVPN offers three tiers with two, three, and five simultaneous connections. 

Read our full VyprVPN review or try it free for 3 days here followed by 50% off your first month if you decide to sign up.

Private Internet Access
PIA logo

PIA is one of the most cost-effective providers of VPN services available and currently has a 52% saving on the yearly plan. But don’t let the low price fool you. There are plenty of features to keep your data safe and flowing smoothly. PIA is another provider that allows P2P traffic, multiple devices and includes a SOCKS5 Proxy. The iOS app does require iOS 8 or newer, so it will work only on newer iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch. You also get unlimited bandwidth and access to over 3,200 servers in 24 countries. 

It’s worth noting that PIA isn’t the most intuitive VPN to use and is not as effective at unblocking restricted content such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Hulu as the other VPN services listed. However, if your main concern is protecting your privacy and you are on a tight budget it is a good choice.

Read our full review of Private Internet Access.

Why do you need a VPN?

It doesn’t really matter what device you’re using to access the internet. When online, if you want:

  • a sense of privacy from prying eyes
  • to use unsecured, public wifi for any type of secure communication
  • to add an extra layer of security for online communications
  • access to any content that is geo-blocked

… then you need a VPN on whatever device you use to get online. Fortunately, you have a variety of options and price ranges to choose from.

A special note for iOS Netflix users

As you may know, Netflix has implemented an overseas VPN ban which prevents users abroad from accessing US, UK and Canadian content through the Netflix iOS app. While there are a few VPNs that are not affected by this ban, only two of them are compatible with the Netflix app on iOS: ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

VPNs to avoid

A bunch of VPNs are listed on the App Store that aren’t actually VPNs. Hola is one such “service”. Instead of connecting your computer to a VPN server, Hola connects your computer to a community-powered P2P network to provide supposedly anonymous internet access. The problem here is that the actual provider has no direct control over any of the nodes in the network as each node is a privately owned computer of one of it’s 55 million members. The lack of strong encryption makes your traffic vulnerable to interception or inspection by any node and, worst of all, your internet bandwidth is sold to third parties who may or may not also have access to your computer’s resources through Hola’s software. This has all the makings of a botnet and should be avoided at all costs.

Tor does something similar, but uses very strong encryption and does not sell anyone’s bandwidth. Tor’s software also does not grant anyone else access to the resources of the device that its running on or make your device available to anyone else for any kind of misuse or abuse.

Finally, most of the supposedly free VPNs include features that most users will want to avoid. Things like injecting advertisements into your web browser traffic, using weak or even no encryption, selling your personal information or detailed logs of your internet activities to third parties of their choosing, and even installing unwanted software on your device, like adware, viruses, trojans, botnet clients, and other forms of malware.

What to do when there is no iOS app

If you don’t want to use the provider’s app, or if your VPN provider doesn’t have an iOS app, there is a VPN tool built into iOS that can be manually configured to connect to your VPN provider’s server of choice. It’s a fairly straight forward setup, but you will need the following information before you begin:

  • Supported protocol – listed as “Type” in iOS
  • VPN server address
  • Your User ID and password
  • If a certificate is required, you will need to get the certificate from your VPN provider
  • Proxy details, if any
    • Server
    • Port
    • Username
    • Password
    • Or just the URL of the proxy server

To start, simply get into your Settings app. Scroll down and tap on “General”, then scroll down and tap on “VPN”. Tap on “Add VPN Configuration” to get into the configuration settings. First, you need to choose the most secure protocol that the VPN server supports. OpenVPN is preferred, but IKEv2 and L2TP are almost just as secure as OpenVPN. PPTP has been proven to provide very weak encryption, but provides a faster connection if speed is more important than security.

Give the connection a description so that you will know the provider as well as the server that it will connect to. Then you will need to enter the server address provided by your VPN service provider. If a certificate is required then the provider will have one ready for you. NordVPN is one that provides a certificate for the IKEv2 protocol only. However, NordVPN’s iOS app uses OpenVPN by default for supported versions of iOS, so you’re better off simply using their app instead.

Otherwise, you will need to enter your username and password. For Authentication, select “Username” and enter the details below. Your VPN provider will also have a shared secret key for you to enter. Make sure you get it from the provider’s manual VPN configuration instructions.

Finally, if you have to connect to the internet through a proxy, then you should already have the proxy information. If you don’t know what this is, then leave it off. Tap the blue “Done” at the top right of the screen. You will now have a “VPN” slider as well as the VPN description listed on this screen. Simply slide the switch to the on position and watch to make sure the connection is successful. When the status shows “Connected”, you’re done. You can now surf privately and securely.

How to connect several Apple devices to the VPN at the same time

Apple junkie? No problem! All of the VPNs we recommended above allow for several simultaneous connections so you can connect your iPhone, iPad, Macbook, and anything else in your house to the VPN at the same time. This is also useful if you share your VPN subscription with family or roommates.

Here are how many devices you can connect on each VPN with a base tier subscription:

  • ExpressVPN: 3 simultaneous connections
  • NordVPN: 6 simultaneous connections
  • IPVanish: 5 simultaneous connections
  • VyprVPN: 3 simultaneous connections
  • Private Internet Access: 5 simultaneous connections

If that’s not enough for you, you might consider configuring the VPN connection on your wifi router. A wifi router only counts as one device, and you can connect as many devices to it as you need and route them through the VPN. This also works for devices that don’t intuitively support VPNs, such as Apple TV.

If you’re not particularly tech savvy, we recommend ExpressVPN’s pre-configured VPN routers. ExpressVPN makes the best VPN-enabled router firmware in the market. You will need an ExpressVPN subscription to use it, however.

Otherwise, you can configure a VPN on your own with a compatible router. Some routers come with firmware that supports VPN connections, and others don’t. If you’re router doesn’t support VPNs, look around to see if you can replace the firmware with an open-source alternative like DD-WRT or Tomato.

Note that you should use extreme caution when flashing new firmware to a router. Using firmware that’s incompatible with your exact router model or making a mistake during the flashing process could brick your router and leave it permanently damaged. The exact process varies from router to router.

iPhone 7 Plus” by Kārlis Dambrāns licensed under CC BY 2.0

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